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Online Slideshow About Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking

Introduction to Lightweight Backpacking

I gave a talk and gear demo about Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking this week at the Appalachian Mountain Club headquarters in Boston. The AMC is one of the biggest and oldest hiking and outdoors clubs in the US with chapters in 11 states and over 50,000 members.

About 60 people attended the talk, which lasted for about 40 minutes. This was followed by an interactive Q&A session between attendees, myself, and two SectionHiker readers Ryan Linn and  Mary Hardy. We set up some tables and spread our gear out on them and let people come up and ask lots of questions about it. Grant Sible from Gossamer Gear was also in town, and he did backpack demos by letting attendees try on a packed Mariposa Plus backpack.

I’d invited Ryan and Mary to help with the gear demo because we all have different backpacking and camping styles. Ryan is an ultralight long distance trail hiker who has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. His gear list is under 10 lbs. I’m more of a medium distance section hiker (50-200 miles) with a lightweight gear list of about 14 lbs.

Mary is more of a hiker and camper, who hikes into campsites and stays for a few days. She also makes a lot of her own gear. Her gear list weighs around 24 lbs and she’s pretty new to the process of lightening her pack. In fact, Mary is probably most like the other hikers who attended the talk. They’re just people who want  to be more comfortable but they’re not necessarily obsessed with shaving every ounce.

For me, the highpoint of the evening was watching the audience interact with the gear demonstrators. We were all mobbed by people asking questions about our gear and I know Ryan and Mary had a blast telling people about their choices and about the other alternatives people can try.

I think this talk was a real eye opener for people who attended. For example, people were stunned when I showed them hammocks, tarptents, and tarps. Many had never seen anything like them and were just amazed at how easy it is to get your shelter weight under 2 lbs. The whole evening was like that. People just need to know that there is a range of different choices available to them and that they need to think about the weight of each alternative, in addition to its other functional tradeoffs.

Lightweight Backpacking Evangelism

As lightweight backpacking evangelists and educators, I think it’s vital that we aim our message at hikers who are just starting to get interested in lightening their loads. Most of these people will never become ultralight sub-10 lb backpackers and that’s ok. I think our role should be to help them understand the full range of options available, beyond what they see today at retailers. If they get hooked on going ultralight (10 lbs or less) that’s great, but my mission is to help the majority of hikers get their packs weights down to 20-25 lb (not including shoes, water, food and fuel.) That’s where I think I can do the most good as a teacher and have the broadest impact.


  1. Great job on the presentation! I think you are "spot on" with the goal of getting folks into lightweight backpacking vs. UL or SUL. The reality is that the average hiker doesn't want to invest the $$ in SUL gear, and probably doesn't have the skillset (campsite selection with a tarp, etc.) to use it. Durability is an issue in some cases and SUL in the wrong hands can be dangerous, especially in marginal weather. I think that too many folks are focused on gram counting without considering a "margin for error" (unexpected snow or cold at elevation, dealing with an injury with an SUL first aid kit, etc.). Everyone has to work within their comfort zone, but almost everyone can get rid of some significant weight.

  2. new old backpckr

    It most definitely was a blast! I love the idea flow and energy that occurs at meetings like this. That's how people figure out what to do next to make their adventures more immediately accessible.

    Lighter gear involves more ingenuity than money. Adaptive use is central to the equation. There is tons of product and figuring out just exactly what you need and where the overlaps are makes sense to me. It's also a whole lot of fun!

    Philip, thanks so much for the opportunity to show off my treasure trove of sublime to ridiculous gear. My engines are running high and I got a few more DIY ideas from talking with everyone.


  3. Thanks Ken – you know I've been giving some thought to how to get people over that initial tipping point to try lightweight backpacking.

    I think I've concluded that trying a tarp tent is the easiest thing someone can do to get started. It's cheaper than a down sleeping bag, it can teach the reuse of hiking poles and it's way lighter than a urethane coated double walled tent. Once we get get people to take that first step, they'll do the rest of the work themselves. We just need to help them find that first catalyst to start the lightweight journey.

    This also means that Henry Shire's tarptent.com is probably the most valuable lightweight backpacking cottage gear manufacturer out there. If he could get a distribution deal with REI or EMS, it would blow the entire market wide open. People need to see tarptents in a showroom to ignite this new style of camping/backpacking.

  4. Mary – I couldn't say it better myself. I plan to feature the MYOG message more prominently in future talks and demos, and I am really grateful for your help this week.

  5. Nice presentation. I took my grandson to a lightweight workshop at REI (I know–that almost sounds like a contradiction in terms) that followed a similar format. Little David even offered his own input. I'd love to see Henry Shires get a deal with a major distributor. I love his products and service.

  6. Henry has great products and I give him credit for really getting me started down the lightweight backpacking path with a Squall 2.

    I wish REI would let me give this talk, but they rejected it because it competes with the courses they sell in their outdoor school…I can only give destination talks there and have a few scheduled this summer about the 4000 footers, the Long Trail, Hiking across Scotland and the 100 mile wilderness.

    Please give my regards to little David. I value his insights.

  7. Thanks so much for inviting me, Phil. I had a really wonderful time at the talk, and it was great to finally meet you in person. Anytime you want to do that kind of presentation again, I'd love to join in on the fun, if I can make it.

    I'm also a little envious… You and your wife really seem to have life figured out very well. There should be more role models like you out there :)

    See you on the trail sometime!


  8. Mr Werner,

    Great slideshow. I belong to a group called meet up in Minnesota. My wife and I are lightweight backpackers and have been asked to do a presentation on LW backpacking and cooking. Could we get permission to use your slideshow. It is the most common sense one I have seen.


  9. David – Absolutely! I'll contact you offline.

  10. Ryan – That's very nice of you to say, but I assure you we're just making it up as we go along. It was a treat having you stay with us and I'm sure we'll hook up again.

  11. Philip- Great comment on Henry Shire and the Tarptent products. My Contrail was my firrst big step toward UL, and I still use it 75% of the time. It really is an easy transition, and probably has the most impact on a hiker's overall weight (with the pack being a close second).

    Your comment about that being a tipping point gave me "AHA" moment- I think you are really on to something there! While REI may never carry them (I do understand that silnylon tents may be in conflict with their great warranty and return policies), evangelism like you are doing may help get the word out.

    Also Henry's products are in line with what I was trying to say about investment. They are reasonably priced (as are the Gossamer Gear products) and provide a stark contrast to the SUL products made from fabric like Cuben, which may beyond the means of the average hiker.

  12. Exactly. Cuben is great but way too expensive, especially if you're looking to replace an existing double walled tent.

    Regarding Gossamer Gear prices, I've been hiking lately with a 8.1 oz Gossamer Gear Murmur pack, which is an awesome silnylon ultralight pack, and only costs $90. That's nearly $150 less than a cuben backpack from Zpacks.com You also don't have to wait 8 weeks for it to be made.

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